Hazard ready to prove his galatico status for Real Madrid against PSG
Paris St-Germain and Real Madrid are severely hampered by injury and suspension in the run-up to their glamour tie on Wednesday night at Parc des Princes.
It should have been the most attractive game of the round, given the star quality in both camps. However, the squads look more ICC than Champions League even at this early stage of the season.
PSG have spent big – too big according to some of those willing UEFA to rein them in – on talents like Edinson Cavani, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. In those three, Thomas Tuchel is in possession of a strike force capable of matching the output of Liverpool’s but he had been denied the opportunity to use them together
Cavani and Mbappe are still injured having gone off at the end of August in a Ligue 1 game against Toulouse. Neymar, meanwhile, has shaken off the foot trouble that ruled him out of the Copa America for Brazil but is under suspension in the Champions League following his reaction to PSG’s elimination to Manchester United last season.
With those three out it means a slightly surreal sight for some British football fans might well transpire, with Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting – relegated with Stoke City – starting up front.
Madrid’s problems are stark too. It’s no secret that Zinedine Zidane has a core which he trusts, a core he will adhere to for as long as he can. But that core – a triple-Champions League winning core – is ruptured.
Marco Asensio is of course a long-term injury absentee but Zidane’s plans have been furthered weakened.
Sergio Ramos is suspended following his high jinks against Ajax in last season’s first knockout round. However, even if Ramos was permitted to play he would not be fit in any case.
Fellow centre-back Nacho Fernandez is also ruled out through suspension meaning a makeshift central defensive duo of Raphael Varane and Eder Militao will be on show.
To that injury list you can add Marcelo, who will cede his place in the line-up to the newly-acquired Ferland Mendy. Isco has had minutes in the league under Zidane this season but is injured too. The creative burden will instead fall to
James Rodriguez, who is one of only three midfielders named in the travelling party for Paris alongside Toni Kroos and Casemiro.
Luka Modric, the Ballon d’Or holder, is not playing either having been injured in the weekend win over Levante, as was Federico Valverde.
Zidane and club president Florentino Perez may well be counting the cost of their failure to offload high-earners like Gareth Bale and James over the summer, as they could not bring in a midfield player like Paul Pogba or Christian Eriksen instead.
As things stand, Madrid look thin in that area and will be hoping for no more disruptions. The upshot of those two staying, at least, is that both have played well with Bale scoring goals and James providing a bit of spark through the centre.
So Zidane might be forced into deviating from his favoured line-up and actually using some of the €300 million-plus signings acquired over the summer. As well as Militao and Mendy, there will probably be a start for Eden Hazard.
His own new-club preparations were curtailed due to a thigh injury in the off-season and, even before that, he looked well short of fitness in his friendly outings.
But he was on hand to make his debut as a substitute at the weekend and, even if Madrid struggled to close out the game, the feedback on Hazard’s impact was solid.
He made the trip to Belgium last week as the national team checked on his fitness ahead of their games against San Marino and Scotland, but it was decided that he should be held back.
They didn’t miss him, racking up consecutive 4-0 wins, but Madrid could certainly use him this week.
The most expensive player in their history, a unique dribbling talent, if Hazard has designs on winning Madrid fans over after a sluggish start, now would be the perfect time.
The Galactico stage, finally, belongs to Eden Hazard.